Who gets custody of a pet in a Virginia divorce?

Divorcing Couple Holding a Dog's CollarWhile you may consider your pet a member of your family, they are considered personal property in Virginia. If you and your spouse cannot agree on who gets custody of your pet in the divorce, the judge will decide who gets to keep them as part of the division of your marital property.

Factors the Court Will Consider When Decides Who Gets Custody of a Family Pet

Virginia is an equitable distribution state. In a divorce, the judge must distribute the property fairly but does not have to split the property evenly. Factors the court would consider when deciding who will get custody of a pet include:

  • Pet’s acquisition. The judge would consider when the pet was acquired or adopted. If one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, they would most likely be awarded custody of the pet.
  • Primary caretaker. Another factor to be considered is who the primary caretaker of the pet is. If one partner has taken on the responsibility for the animal care, the judge may determine that they should be the pet’s owners.
  • Best living environment. The judge would also consider which spouse can provide the best living environment for the pet and has the most time and finances to care for the animal. The spouse awarded custody of the children will most likely also get the family pet.
  • Abuse and neglect. If either spouse abused or neglected the pet in the past, it is unlikely that the judge would give them ownership of the animal.

How to Increase Your Chances of Being Awarded Custody of a Pet

The best way to increase the likelihood of keeping a family pet may be to work out an agreement with your spouse. You may have to bargain with them and give up other property you may be entitled to or work out a visitation schedule where they have some time with the pet too. You can also collect evidence to help convince the judge to award you the family pet. Helpful evidence can include:

  • Adoption paperwork, bill of sale, veterinarian bills, and other documents with your name on them
  • Statements and testimony of family and friends who can confirm you are the pet’s primary caregiver
  • Pet’s name tag if it has your name and cellphone number on it
  • Pet’s license with your name and signature

Are you planning to file for divorce in Norfolk or Virginia Beach? Do you have questions about your right to keep a family pet? Call our Norfolk office at 877-960-3441 or complete our convenient online form to schedule your free initial consultation with our experienced family law lawyers to get answers to your questions and learn how we can help you.